Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. If they have come back, it is mainly because of trade with Ireland rather than trade with the rest of the world which is the traditional area in which they operated.
  (Mr Reeves) Yes, there is booming container and ferry traffic to Ireland and it also became very important to bulk and semi-bulk traffic. You are quite right that their traffic did decline right down to not much more than 10 million tonnes in the mid-1980s, but there has been a huge turnround. Only the other day the port company, Mersey Docks, actually acquired the Port of Heysham.

  41. If you buy a new port that is a mark of your success, is it?
  (Mr Reeves) No, I was merely going to say that this is part of the dynamic in the industry which illustrates how the industry changes. Liverpool is certainly a classic example, though there are many others, of the way in which changing trade patterns have affected a port but in Liverpool's case it has found new traffics and a great deal of success again.

Dr Ladyman

  42. Before we leave that subject, I note that you say in one of your pieces of evidence that you have a responsibility under the Competition Act in respect of ports. I do not actually understand how a dominant position would ever be established under the Competition Act for ports because none of them would ever have a sufficient percentage of the market.
  (Mr Wadsworth) Very often these questions depend on how the competition authorities define the market, indeed there have been some recent investigations in this very matter by DGIV at the European competition level in respect of the North European container market. It very much comes down to the judgement of the competition authority about how the market properly be defined, how limited or how extensive it should be geographically.

  43. Looking at issues of competition and cooperation, do you count the Channel Tunnel as a port?
  (Mr Wadsworth) Actually yes; it is not technically a port.

  44. But it falls within your remit in the DETR.
  (Mr Wadsworth) No, it does not. The Channel Tunnel is handled separately.

  45. Who is monitoring the impact the Channel Tunnel has had on Folkestone, Dover and Ramsgate?
  (Mr Wadsworth) We are from the ports perspective certainly.

  46. Moving on to other issues to do with the environment, do you think the port industry is aware of its responsibilities to the environment?
  (Mr Wadsworth) Yes, certainly all the major ports are very much aware of that. They have expressed some concern about the implications of it in their submissions to you which we understand. Some very good examples of environmental mitigation work have been undertaken in connection with previous port expansions, for example at Felixstowe, though that is not the only example.

  47. Would their responsibilities to the environment include having a view as to how goods were being shipped out of their ports, whether it was by road or rail?
  (Mr Wadsworth) Yes.

  48. I do not know whether it was a slip of the tongue, but when you told us your role in the DETR, you mentioned road haulage, but you did not indicate that you had any responsibility for rail as far as ports are concerned.
  (Mr Wadsworth) I do take quite a keen interest in rail freight matters, but there is a separate Railways Directorate within the Department and I am not directly responsible for railway matters in the Department.

  49. Environmental concern and joined-up government have not got as far as giving you some role in the way goods are shipped out of ports if they go by train.
  (Mr Wadsworth) The SRA has now taken responsibility for, for example, the administration of the freight facilities grants which are available to promote the use of rail out of ports. I would not like to suggest that organisational boundaries have stood greatly in the way of that in the past. The record is quite good. We hope it could be better. It is a fact that the railways have quite a significant market share of the inland container distribution market and indeed the traffic has been growing very strongly on the freight line in recent years.

  50. Whereas organisational boundaries may not have got in the way, if you have responsibility for ports and for road transport from ports, then when you are sitting in the evening having your cocktail, I imagine it is road transport and ports you are going to be thinking about, not rail. Are you in a position to be pro-active, to encourage rail transport from ports?
  (Mr Wadsworth) Yes; absolutely. I am not sure I can afford to have cocktails in the evening, but I do take a strong interest in rail transport and I do see it as part of my role to work with my colleagues in the Department to try to maximise the opportunities for rail distribution out of ports.

  51. In terms of conflicts which arise when planning sustainable development strategies, how does the DETR get involved in conflict resolution?
  (Mr Wadsworth) Do you mean particularly in respect of rail or more generally?

  52. More generally.
  (Mr Wadsworth) There is quite a substantial planning process for major port developments, which the ports themselves have commented on in their submissions. The DETR is involved in the context of the harbour orders which are often needed for ports development and expansion and of course wearing a different hat in the planning process itself. It is through those processes that we pursue sustainable development in the port sector.

  53. I am told that the Habitats Directive allows for special areas of conservation to be defined and in Europe they have been defined in such a way as not to interfere with ports. However, there has been some criticism that for example the Severn and Humber in this country do get in the way of the ports. Would you like to comment on that?
  (Mr Wadsworth) Our understanding is that the European Instrument requires that areas be designated on scientific criteria alone and not on the basis of commercial criteria and indeed that judgement has recently been confirmed by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). It is true that one of our ports has recently done an analysis of what is happening on the other side of the Channel and has apparently discovered that the same interpretation does not appear to have been applied in a number of European neighbour countries. We have indeed drawn the European Commission's attention to this. The next step in these things is for the Commission and Member States collectively to review these proposed draft designations, which I believe is going to happen in September.
  (Mr Reeves) Yes.
  (Mr Wadsworth) We shall certainly be drawing attention to any apparent discrepancies when it comes to discussing these draft designations.

  54. Will the response be any quicker than the four years it took to get today's communiqé?
  (Mr Wadsworth) I hope so. Do we have any firm indication of that?
  (Mr Reeves) I do not know whether the Commission has a firm timetable. That is stage two of the process. The first stage is for the Member States to put forward their candidate list, then the Commission and Member States meet and make a global assessment of that. What the outcome will be and the timescale for that is not clear to me. I only know that the science involved in this is quite difficult in some respects.


  55. You talk a lot about safety levels in the ports industry. Why is it one of the most dangerous in the United Kingdom?
  (Mr Wadsworth) Perhaps the Health and Safety Executive may have more detailed views on that, but our discussions with them have tended to the view that there are issues to do with training and to do with the management of ports which could be improved.

  56. Why are there two separate bodies dealing with safety and training in ports?
  (Mr Reeves) That is probably more a question for the ports industry themselves.

  57. Come now, Mr Reeves. They did not write this document.
  (Mr Reeves) I am quite happy to have a stab at it.

  58. The Government wrote this document not the ports industry. It is called Modern Ports: A UK Policy.
  (Mr Reeves) We reflect the position as we find it. What I was going to say was that the Port Safety Organisation (PSO) and the British Ports Industry Training (BPIT) being there reflect, as I understand it, what happened after the breakup of the British Ports Federation and so on. That is the history.

  59. That is the history. But what does "higher profile support" mean?
  (Mr Reeves) Ministers set great store by training as a means of raising standards and promoting safety. We have the BPIT, which is an accredited national training organisation.

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